ATT should not be used as a legitimization to weaken national policies on arms transfers: Japan’s ratification and its abandonment of the ban on arms exports
Written by Midori Natsuki, Oxfam Japan
On 9 May 2014, Japan ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). But alongside its ratification of the ATT, Japan decided to abandon its long-held blanket ban on arms exports on 1 April 2014.
In 1967, the Japanese government introduced three principles prohibiting arms exports to: (1) communist bloc countries, (2) countries subject to arms export embargoes under the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions, and (3) countries involved in or likely to be involved in international conflicts. Subsequently, in 1976, the Japanese government announced that the arms exports to other areas not included in the above three principles will also be restrained in conformity with Japan’s position as a peace-loving nation. Since then, the de facto blanket ban was retained in principle, while the government allowed certain arms exports such as military technology transfers to the United States by treating such cases as “exceptions” to the ban.
On 1 April 2014, the Japanese government decided to replace the ban with the “Three Principles of Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology,” which allows arms exports under certain conditions.And the Kyodo News International reported on 10 April 2014 that a Japanese government source claimed that there are no inconsistencies between Japan’s ratification of the ATT and abolishing the ban on arms exports.
When Japan expressed its interest in the idea of an ATT for the first time on 26 June 2006 at the UN conference on small arms and light weapons, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan stated, “I am very proud that Japanese small arms and light weapons are not being used in conflicts around the world. The global community should try to develop international standards on transfer control. …… In this regard, Japan understands the Arms Trade Treaty initiative aims to strengthen control over the transfer of conventional weapons. Such an initiative is principally in line with Japan’s basic position.”  Throughout the UN ATT process, Japan expressed its commitment to the ATT initiative as a country which basically did not export arms. While the ATT is not a treaty to ban all arms exports, these statements indicated that Japan supported the initiative as a country which did not export arms and did not want to see Japanese arms being used in conflicts around the world.
Under the new “Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology,” overseas transfer of arms will not be permitted when it is destined for “a country party to a conflict”, but the term is defined as “a country against which the United Nations Security Council is taking measures to maintain or restore international peace and security in the event of an armed attack”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted on 3 April 2014 that there is currently no country in the world which falls into this definition. Therefore, the new Principles may not stop Japanese arms from being used in conflicts around the world.
As the Japanese government clearly recognized in the above statement in June 2006, the ATT aims to strengthen control over the transfer of conventional weapons. While the ATT is a product of many compromises and as such it sets an international baseline that in certain respects is lower than exists in many states already, it will lift standards for arms transfer control in many other states. It should never be used to legitimise a decision to weaken national policies and practices for the regulation of international trade in conventional arms; to do so would be contrary to the many years of hard work which went into making the ATT a reality. If Japan were to weaken its own arms export control and to claim that it would still be able to meet its ATT obligations, this would set a terrible example to all the other states that could do the same thing if they so choose, but have so far given no sign of thinking along similar lines.
Midori Natsuki is Policy Officer on Humanitarian and Arms Control Issues at Oxfam Japan and co-representative of the Arms and Civil Society Research Forum. Follow her on Twitter @MidoriNatsuki
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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan.
 Kyodo News International, Japan’s lower house approves bill to ratify arms trade treaty, 10 April 2014.
 Statement by H .E. Mr. Shintaro Ito, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, On the occasion of United Nations Conference to Review Progress Made in the Implementation of the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects, 26 June 2006, United Nations, New York. “For the rule-making process, Japan will continue to contribute to the international efforts. As a high priority of this Conference, the Final Document should stress, among other things, the importance of transfer control on small arms. I am very proud that Japanese small arms and light weapons are not being used in conflicts around the world. The global community should try to develop international standards on transfer control. In addition, Japan believes the Final Document, to maintain its effectiveness, must engage the major small arms exporting countries. In this regard, Japan understands the Arms Trade Treaty initiative aims to strengthen control over the transfer of conventional weapons. Such an initiative is principally in line with Japan’s basic position.”
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan. (in Japanese)
 Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology. http://www.mofa.go.jp/files/000034953.pdf
“1. Clarification of cases where transfers are prohibited
Overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology will not be permitted when:
1) the transfer violates obligations under treaties and other international agreements that Japan has concluded,
2) the transfer violates obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions, or
3) the defense equipment and technology is destined for a country party to a conflict (a country against which the United Nations Security Council is taking measures to maintain or restore international peace and security in the event of an armed attack).